Bangor City's 1962 European Cup Winners' Cup team with captain Ken Birch (centre right) and manager T.G. Jones (far right).
Organised football in Bangor dates from a meeting held in the city’s Magistrates' Rooms on 18 December 1876 – but not football as we might imagine because it was the handling variety that was first played in the city. It wasn’t until nearly a year later that it was decided to abandon rugby, to concentrate on association football, and to join the Football Association of Wales. The reason for the change of code? The number of players injured in that first experimental season!
At that time, the club played at the Maes y Dref ground, at the lower end of Bangor’s High Street, and in the early years concentrated on playing challenge (friendly) fixtures and competing in the various cup competitions. Obviously, the club had no lack of ambition as on Easter Monday 1880, they took on the mighty Blackburn Rovers, giving a good account of themselves in a narrow 2 – 1 defeat.
Nine years later, Bangor won the Welsh Cup for the first time, beating Northwich Victoria 2 – 1 at Wrexham before a crowd of 4,000, and in 1895-96 put on an even more impressive performance, beating north Wales giants Wrexham 3 – 0 at Llandudno to win football’s second-oldest cup competition for the second time.
The Welsh Cup has been a favourite trophy of Bangor City over the years. City has won the trophy eight times – only Wrexham, Cardiff and Swansea have won it more often.
Despite, or perhaps because of, City’s success in cup competitions, it became clear that the Maes y Dref ground was not up to standard, attracting complaints from visiting teams. At first for a trial period, and then permanently, the club reached an arrangement to move to the High Street ground, better known as Farrar Road, to share with the city’s cricket club. Shortly after the First World War, the cricket club found an alternative home, and Bangor City Football Club was to make Farrar Road its respected – some might say feared – home for the next ninety years and more.
Eager to broaden its horizons and play against opposition of the highest possible level, in 1932 Bangor City was elected into the Birmingham and District League, then the Lancashire Combination and the Cheshire League. Of course there was no all-Wales league at that time and City’s outstanding successes still tended to come in cup competition, notably in 1962, when the team won the Welsh Cup.
That Welsh Cup triumph led to one of the most famous episodes in the Club’s history, when, under the management of former Everton and Wales player TG Jones, City played the famous Italian team Napoli in the European Cup Winners’ Cup. Bangor thrilled their fans by winning 2 - 0 at home in the first leg. City lost 3-1 in Naples and finally went out after losing 2 – 1 in the playoff game at Arsenal’s famous Highbury stadium. As City fans never fail to mention, Bangor would have progressed in the competition had the away goals rule been in place at the time!
Non-league football in England was re-organised in the late 1960s, a period which saw Bangor take a step up to become members of the Northern Premier League, and ten years later, founder members of the Alliance (now Conference) League. City’s first stint in the Alliance lasted only two years, as the club was relegated at the end of the 1980-81 season, but it bounced back straight away, winning the Northern Premier League, and promotion back to the Alliance, in 1981-82. At the end of the 1983-84 season, however, City were relegated back into the Northern Premier League.
One of the highlights of City’s final ten years playing in the English footballing pyramid was an appearance at the ‘old’ Wembley stadium in the 1984 FA Trophy Final against Northwich – the first Welsh team to appear at the historic ground since Cardiff City in 1927. The match ended in a 1 – 1 draw, and Bangor, under the management of former Sunderland midfielder Dave Elliott, narrowly lost the replay, played at Stoke City’s ground.
City also had their moment in the European spotlight during that period. Qualifying for the 1985/86 European Cup Winners’ Cup, and under the management of former Stoke City and Wales midfielder John Mahoney, City exceeded expectations by beating Norwegian team Fredrickstad on the away goals rule, then played Spanish giants Atletico Madrid, going out of the competition 0 – 3 on aggregate. Over 7,000 packed into Farrar Road for the home leg of that tie.
In 1947, 1950 and 1972, the ambitious City had applied to join the English Football League (this in the days before automatic promotion from the Conference), but the fortunes of the club took a momentous turn in 1992, when it elected to join the new League of Wales, severing its historic links with the English system.
After a slow start, Bangor won the League of Wales title in 1994 and 1995 under the management of Nigel Adkins (former manager of Scunthorpe United, Southampton, and Reading, now with Sheffield United) leading to more European exploits in Iceland and Poland.
1998 and 2000 saw further Welsh Cup victories, and these, along with high League placings, led to further European campaigns in Finland, Sweden, Romania, Yugoslavia and Latvia.
Consistent success however was hard to find, but this changed with the appointment of former City player Neville Powell as manager in May 2007. In his first three seasons, Nev guided Bangor to a hat-trick of Welsh Cup wins and European qualification. In 2011 he won Bangor City’s first league championship since the Adkins era of the mid-1990s.
Away from the playing side, protracted negotiations between the club, councils and developers led to Bangor City leaving the much-loved Farrar Road ground in late 2012 and moving to a new purpose-built stadium at Nantporth, on the banks of the Menai Straits. Immediately popular due to its excellent playing surface and facilities, the stadium has become the venue of choice for representative matches in North West Wales.